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Excursion train owners aiming to reopen line


The EnterTRAINment Line's owners plan to repay deposits from customers whose trips were canceled when the line closed last month, and they want to reopen the excursion line, a company owner said last week.

Steven Hamilton, vice president and secretary of Gus Novotny Associates Inc., which owns the train line, said he plans to meet with lawyers tomorrow to discuss the company's financial situation.

"My intentions are to reopen the EnterTRAINment Line and get it back on the right track," Mr. Hamilton said Friday from his home in Canton, Mich. "We don't want our customers to get hurt."

Customers have complained to the Carroll County state's attorney's office that their deposit checks for excursions were cashed after the Union Bridge train line closed May 21.

Carroll County Deputy State's Attorney Marcie S. Wogan said Friday that her office has received "numerous" calls from people claiming they were cheated by the EnterTRAINment Line. Customers said they've lost from $39 to $1,800, she said.

"We are interested in helping to collect the information from the victims," Ms. Wogan said. "It seems like there are a lot of them out there."

State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes has turned the information over to the FBI, she said.

"I suspect this is a jurisdictional issue, and I don't think we have any authority over trains," Ms. Wogan said. "The operation of trains is governed by federal law."

Larry K. Foust, a spokesman for the FBI's Baltimore office, said Friday that the agency had not received any information about the EnterTRAINment Line.

Ms. Wogan said Mr. Barnes may have contacted another federal agency about the matter and that the FBI hadn't yet picked up the documents.

Mr. Barnes was attending a convention in Ocean City and could not be reached for comment.

The EnterTRAINment Line closed last month after falling behind in rent payments to Maryland Midland Railway, which leases its tracks and locomotives to the excursion line.

Maryland Midland President Paul D. Denton would not say how much the excursion line owes. Mr. Hamilton said the company pays Maryland Midland $375,000 to $400,000 per year in rent for the use of its tracks.

The EnterTRAINment Line also owes about $500,000 in back taxes, interest and penalties to Union Bridge and Westminster for a four-year period, from 1989 to 1993.

In addition, court records in Carroll show the company owes about $8,000 to the county and to one vendor.

According to District Court records, County Commissioners filed suit in March against Gus Novotny Associates seeking $3,196 in personal property taxes on business assets.

Bugle Rental Services of Baltimore filed a lawsuit in District Court last month, claiming Donald S. Golec, president of Gus Novotny Associates, owes his company $5,319. According to the suit, the company entered into a three-year contract with Mr. Golec in October 1993, to supply the EnterTRAINment Line with table linens, bar mops and aprons.

Mr. Hamilton said he did not know how much money his company owes customers. He said in April that the company would close if it had to pay the back taxes.

Mr. Hamilton said the business was doomed when the state pulled its liquor license after a Maryland Tax Court judge ruled in late April that the company owed back admissions and amusement taxes to the two Carroll towns.

The EnterTRAINment Line did not appeal the Tax Court decision.

The excursion line could not attract customers for its murder mystery or dinner and dancing trains without a liquor license, and so could not earn money to pay the taxes, Mr. Hamilton said.

He and his partners bought the EnterTRAINment Line in February 1993 from Gus Novotny, who had owned the business since 1989 and had coined the line's name.

Mr. Novotny said Friday that he no longer was affiliated with the excursion line, but that the company retained his name so that it could continue a 25-year contract with Maryland Midland.

He said the EnterTRAINment Line does not owe him money.

"It's a shame" the train line closed, said Mr. Novotny, who lives in Hanover. "I walked away from it. I don't look over my shoulder."

He said he believes the owners could reopen the business.

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